The BC Civil Liberties Association and Union of BC Indian Chiefs say they are highly alarmed at the at the expansion of the RCMP exclusion zone in Wet’suwet’en territory. They say the enlargement grants the RCMP discretionary, unreasonable and unjustified powers.
Tensions in the area have been building since Dec.31, when the BC Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction against members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who were blocking access to the project.
Last Thursday, the RCMP began enforcing a court order against protesters blocking construction of the 670 kilometre long pipeline that will transport natural gas from northeastern BC to an LNG facility near Kitimat.
In response, the Wet’suwet’en established camps along the road, preventing workers from accessing the construction zone, located near Houston, BC. Since late last week, the RCMP have arrested over 20 protesters.
Harsha Walia, Executive Director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said “The RCMP have given themselves the power to clear more than 60 kilometres of roadway of all people; a power which is not granted to them under the enforcement order. This a clear exercise of overbroad policing power, with the impact of unlawfully criminalizing Indigenous people on their lands and perpetuating the colonial doctrine of terra nullius.”
The pipeline project was approved by the province and 20 First Nation band councils have signed agreements in support of the project, however, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs argue the councils are only responsible for the territory within their reserves.
In response to the increased RCMP presence, the BCCLA and the UBCIC wrote to the Chairperson of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the RCMP with an updated policy complaint regarding the RCMP exclusion zone.
The two groups say they reiterated their call to the Commission to initiate a policy complaint and public interest investigation.
Walia says “There is absolutely no legal precedent nor established legal authority for such an overbroad policing power associated with the enforcement of an injunction.”
According to the complaint, “The arbitrary RCMP exclusion zone and overbroad access restrictions are completely unjustified and unlawful, and constitute a serious violation of Indigenous rights and jurisdiction, severe deprivation of individual liberty interests, and egregious impairment of Charter-protected rights.”
UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said “For Wet’suwet’en people to be denied access to their own territories as a result of a police exclusion zone smacks of outright racism and the colonial-era pass system sanctioned by the so-called rule of law, which our people survived for far too long.”
Protesters have blocked some rail lines and roadways in Canada in support of the Wet’suwet’en.